In the 19th century Italy was the most desirable destination for travelers from every corner of Europe and beyond. Thousands crossed mountains, even oceans, to go there, leaving their "barbarous” homelands to study and admire Italy’s unsurpassed aesthetic and cultural riches. A poem in the New England Magazine in 1831 described the goals and ideals of visiting Italy on a European Grand Tour, calling those who did so "pilgrims of beauty.” Like religious pilgrims of centuries past, these lovers of art participated in a ritual journey, a powerful shared experience of Italy’s magnificent landscape, history, architecture, and museums.
In response to everything seen, felt, and imagined while exploring Italy, 19th-century artists and tourists created and purchased a variety of new works of art. Many visited repeatedly or settled for extended stays in Rome, Florence, Naples, and Venice, making Italy an important meeting point for artists and patrons. The vibrant atmosphere enriched the careers of many of the era’s great artists.
This exhibition presents the vast array of media and materials in which they worked, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, furniture, and jewelry. Furthermore, the diversity of themes and styles among these objects, from Neoclassicism through Post-Impressionism, demonstrates that Italy remained an important center for artistic training and a consistent source of inspiration throughout a century of revolutionary changes in the worlds of politics, science, and art.